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  • Snake Eyes: Confessions of a Replacement Rockstar – The Autobiography from Former Roxx Gang and LA Guns Guitarist Stacey Blades!

    Snake Eyes: Confessions of a Replacement Rockstar is the autobiography of former LA Guns and Roxx Gang guitarist Stacey Blades. It was first released in 2009.
    Snake Eyes: Confessions of a Replacement Rockstar is the autobiography of former LA Guns and Roxx Gang guitarist Stacey Blades. It was first released in 2009.

     

     

    Stacey Blades ranks amongst the most criminally underrated guitarists out there. Growing up and being exposed to music, it was not long at all before he found himself out there, pursuing his dreams of making it big in the world of rock and roll. Through many shortcomings and tragedies alike, he has forged ahead, making a name for himself, having played in bands like Roxx Gang and LA Guns. The title of this book is a reference to his struggles to establish himself in the musical world,  “rolling snake eyes” and always coming up slightly short.

    The biggest rock stars of the past and present all seem to have their own share of stories when it comes to them making the big time, but as a fan of many of these bands, I was all the more intrigued to read a book from someone like Stacey Blades, who has had an entirely different history that has not always been massive arena concerts and platinum records around every corner. He had to forge his own path in a difficult time for rock and roll, but has finally made a large enough name for himself, making his talents known to the world. This is his story, though the best and worst of times alike.

    Throughout the course of this book, you will see Stacey Blades from his childhood and early exposure to music, up to recent times where he became the replacement for the legendary Tracii Guns in LA Guns (Stacey has since parted ways with LA Guns, but this book was published before he left the band). Along the way, he grows up and discovers the Sunset Strip music scene, relocates to become a part of Roxx Gang, experiences his share of drama amidst stalkers and strippers, deals with lost luggage on world tours, and eventually, through many an ill-fated venture, overcomes several obstacles and plenty of drama to take his place in LA Guns.

     

    Rear cover of the book.
    Rear cover of the book.

     

    So how does this book hold up? This is one of the more straightforward amongst the rock biographies that I have read, and that is a compliment of the highest order. There are no confusing jumps forward and back in time on a whim like some other rockers put in their books; everything stays on the straight and narrow, and very little of it feels overwhelming or bogged down. The balance between personal drama and band business is actually done very well; for the most part you never feel like you are getting too much of one or the other. The stories throughout the book are actually handled very well, and the fact that others get to share quotes and experiences about their dealings with Blades adds to the experience greatly. At just over 200 pages in length, the book never outstays its welcome, and it will be a quick read for any fan. The photos, spanning Blades’ whole life from childhood to present day, are a nice addition as well.

    It is not a perfect book, and does have a few flaws that need to be mentioned. The chapter lengths tend to be inconsistent; you can be reading one that is a few short pages, and then have one that is over 30 pages. There are some typos here and there (though nowhere near as bad as I have seen in some other self-published rocker biographies); you get the impression that there was not really an editor on board and that the whole thing was entirely self-written and self-edited. The formatting suffers from a number of problems as well; at times the book is literally cut off mid-sentence by the passages where someone other than Blades shares their own stories! Furthermore, the spacing and the formatting of text is very sloppy in places. At times the narrative gets a bit bogged down by too many people involved and too much going on; the drama between Blades and the strippers he dated is a prime example of this. Still, the good outweighs the bad and no complaint is substantial enough that you should stay away from this book.

    Stacey Blades is a great guitarist that deserves more credit than he gets, and it is great to be able to read his life story and his journey to get to where he has been in recent years. There are some problems, mostly stemming from a lack of professional formatting and editing, but these things are minor issues in the grand scheme of things. Any fan of Blades is going to enjoy reading more about his life story. Hopefully we will be getting a second installment in the future, chronicling his post LA Guns days up to more recent times. Regardless though, Snake Eyes – Confessions of a Replacement Rockstar is a worthy read for anyone that calls themselves a fan. Recommended.

     



  • War of Kings – The Tenth Album from Swedish Rockers Europe has Arrived at Long Last!

    War of Kings is the tenth studio album from Europe, and the fifth since their reunion. It was released in early March of 2015.
    War of Kings is the tenth studio album from Europe, and the fifth since their reunion. It was released in early March of 2015.

     

     

    Of all the bands to emerge from the 80s scene, Europe has had one of the most interesting and diverse careers. Starting out with a gloomy hard rock sound all their own early in the decade, it was taking a more commercial approach on their third album, 1986’s Final Countdown, and the associated title track, that made them a household name all the world round, with the song becoming a massive radio and MTV hit. The group never reached those commercial highs again and initially disbanded following the release of their fifth album, Prisoners in Paradise, in the early 90s. With a music industry that continued to heavily change, it seemed like this would be the end of Europe as we know it.

    But no, the story does not end there! The band reunited in the mid 2000s and released a comeback album, Start from the Dark. And more releases have followed, being everything from more modern style music to classic rock throwbacks. With the release of War of Kings, a band we thought we had heard the last of over 20 years ago, has now released their TENTH studio album! Naturally, this is a band where the opinions tend to strongly vary when it comes to material from all phases of their career. But those who dig deeper than the band’s 80s commercial period find a great deal to like that never gets the proper credit.

    Every time Europe puts out a new release, this fan is curious as to how it is going to sound. The group is one of the most diverse and interesting the rock world has ever seen, and this is a big part of what keeps them more relevant than a number of their peers, even if they are no longer of the mainstream popularity they enjoyed for a brief period of the 80s. War of Kings was easily one of my most eagerly awaited releases of 2015. Which direction does the always unpredictable Swedish rock band take on this, their latest studio album?

    I do not know if Europe is desperately searching for a new sound to call their own that they can stick with, or if they actually enjoy experimenting musically with different rock genres. It does not matter in either even, because War of Kings is a kick-ass release that just might be the best thing the boys from Sweden have released since their classic 80s heyday!

    Truth be told, it is hard to say if this album is going to have the longevity of the band’s earlier releases when it comes to spawning classic songs that a fan wants to revisit several years later; seeing how songs and an album “age” over time is an interesting process. But I have a feeling War of Kings is one that I will be coming back to more than the other “reunion” albums, if nothing else. Like their other reunion albums, this one brings back the classic “Final Countdown” lineup of Joey Temepst, John Norum, Mic Michaeli, Ian Haugland, and John Leven. This fan thoroughly enjoyed the previous Journey album, Bag of Bones, which felt like a throwback to 70s classic hard rock style music. The latest album still feels like a “throwback” of sorts, but is more keyboard driven, almost giving the record a sound reminiscent of Deep Purple’s 2013 album, Now What!?. And anyone who has read my reviews knows that album was my favorite release from Deep Purple since Perfect Strangers, so for Europe to reinvent themselves in this way of making music is a welcomed change that results in one of their strongest releases in years!

    You would think after over 30 years, Europe is a band that would be showing signs of aging or calling it quits. On the contrary, they prove quite the opposite here. Joey Tempest has always been one of the most underrated vocalists out there, and demonstrates his prowess on nearly every track here. And while guitarist John Norum still delivers and does what he does best, the real standout member of the band on this release is keyboardist Mic Michaeli; whose Deep Purple-esque playing gives this new release a distinctive enough sound from the band’s days of old. This album is NOT going to be mistaken for Final Countdown era Europe by any stretch of the imagination, but I am glad to see the band moving forward and trying new things. At its best, this is Sweden’s finest on fire and unstoppable. Even the “average” tracks on this release still have a lot to love about them.

    Europe still rocks, and they easily prove it on War of Kings. Granted, not every long time fan of the group is going to love what the band has done here, but overall, the hits outweigh the misses by far. It is great to see this Swedish band going strong 30 years on, and War of Kings comes strongly recommended!

     



  • Live at the Mystic – Y&T Tears up the Stage with a Two Disc Live Album of Old and New Songs Alike!

    Live at the Mystic was recorded in November of 2011, and released a year later.
    Live at the Mystic was recorded in November of 2011, and released a year later.

     

     

    For Y&T it has been a long and interesting ride through the world of rock and roll. Starting life under the name Yesterday and Today in the mid 1970s, the group would peak in the 1980s under their now familiar moniker, releasing a number of classic hard rock anthems for the ages. Sadly, the group tends to get neglected compared to many of their peers, and they remain known for songs that were more on the pop and commercial end of the spectrum, despite being a far heavier and more talented band than many know them to be.

    The band suffered a major blow in early 2011 when classic bassist Phil Kennemore passed away following a battle with cancer. From the classic lineup, only guitarist/vocalist Dave Meniketti remains, who is now joined in the band by drummer Mike Vanderhule, guitarist John Nymann, and bassist Brad Lang. Live at the Mystic, recorded in November of 2011, marks the first recordings the band members have ever made since Kennemore’s passing (as of this writing the post-Kennemore version of the band has not recorded any studio material).

    The band has pulled out all the stops with this latest live recording, giving fans a two-disc package of live cuts recorded at the Mystic. But, even with a lineup that has changed considerably, including the death of a long time member, can the band still deliver on the concert stage?

    While the setlist is far from perfect, the performance featured in this set is phenomenal, and demonstrates beautifully that the current version of Y&T is one of the best incarnations of the group yet. For two discs, the band serves up everything from hard and heavy rock to the more melodic tracks, and all of them still sound amazing. It is tough for a band to maintain their classic sound with so many personnel changes over the years, but Meniketti has assembled an amazing collection of musicians who more than bring their all to the table.

     

    The setlist for Live at the Mystic combines old favorites with cuts from their latest studio effort, 2010's Facemelter.
    The setlist for Live at the Mystic combines old favorites with cuts from their latest studio effort, 2010’s Facemelter.

     

    The best thing I can say about this live album is that it is never boring. Despite being two discs and nearly two hours in length, the band keeps your attention from start to finish. Being recorded in 2011, during the 30 year anniversary of the classic Earthshaker record, the setlist primarily features tracks from that album and their latest studio effort, Facemelter. You get plenty of cuts spanning the band’s career that stand the test of time in their own right, and are given new life by the band here. In many ways, these songs sound even more epic and heavy on the live stage, and you will experience this quickly when listening to this release. The band is not afraid to dig into the vault here, and includes a number of the choice deep cuts as well.

    The one minor complaint I have with this otherwise excellent live album is the setlist. Do not get me wrong, I absolutely love the performance on this album. You can tell the band wanted to pay tribute to Earthshaker for the record’s 30th anniversary, and also give fans some of the best tracks from Facemelter. The problem with the overemphasis of these two releases? Far too many Y&T hits and classics are cast aside and not performed because of this. Where are Lipstick and Leather, Rock and Roll’s Gonna Save the World, All American Boy, Beautiful Dreamer, Contagious, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, and Don’t Stop Runnin’? Even the band’s biggest hit, Summertime Girls, is not performed here. I do not fault the band for wanting to pursue some of the heavier tracks more in depth for this particular live album (and I actually prefer most of the songs on this album to those listed here), but fans expecting a “Greatest Hits Live” package might be disappointed to see so many of their favorite hits left out of this otherwise excellent concert.

    Y&T rocks, and that is especially true on a live stage. It has been four decades since they released their debut album, but they are still going strong and winning over a live crowd like no other band possibly could. There are some issues with the setlist here, but that is not going to deter die-hard fans of the group from loving the live performance contained here. For any fan of the band, this is an essential purchase that comes highly recommended.

     



  • Kevin Gilbert – Thud (20th Anniversary Deluxe Edition) Is a Remarkable Testament To His Talent

    Kevin Gilbert - Thud (20th Anniversary Deluxe Edition)
    Kevin Gilbert – Thud (20th Anniversary Deluxe Edition)

     

    Kevin Gilbert was an unbelievably talented musician, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist, possibly best known for his contributions to Sheryl Crow’s Tuesday Night Music Club album, including the Grammy award-winning “All I Wanna Do.” Gilbert also had a progressive rock side, revealed when he organized a live performance of Genesis’ The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. Thud, his first solo album, was released to critical acclaim, but sadly little mainstream success. Gilbert would die the next year, at age 29.

    Kevin Gilbert’s executor of his estate has facilitated the reissue of several of his albums over the past few years, and has continued with a special three-disc edition of Thud, packaged in a hardcover book, with all of the original liner notes, and photos and memorabilia from the era.

    Disc one is the original album, remastered by John Cuniberti, who produced Joe Satriani’s breakthrough Surfing With the Alien album. It is just an outstanding collection of fantastic songs. Thud is quite eclectic, but not so that it feels like certain songs don’t fit, not in the “I know, let’s do a country song on our metal album” way. It certainly doesn’t feel dated; it could easily be released today and sound contemporary. It’s a pop/rock masterpiece, with his prog roots showing through from time to time.

    The standout song for me is “Tea for One,” which tells the story of an ill-fated romance. The melodies are gorgeous, and Gilbert’s vocals are fantastic.

    KG3

    Disc two is an alternate version of the album, using demos and different mixes, and including songs that were included in Kevin’s notes, but dropped from the original release. Some of the alternate versions and deleted songs feature some anachronistic synth parts, that sound more like mid 80’s British prog, and don’t feel like they fit with the overall album. They are certainly worthy of release, however.

    Disc three includes even more alternate versions, including instrumental tracks. Also included is a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir,” which was originally intended for the Encomium tribute album, and became a minor hit on Los Angeles radio. Another notable track is “Miss Broadway,” thought to be about the acrimonious breakup with Sheryl Crow and the circumstances surrounding Tuesday Night Music Club, where she fired the band responsible for its creation around the album’s release, and failed to give proper credit on some of the songs.

     

    THUD is available at KevinGilbert.com and downloadable from iTunes
    THUD is available at KevinGilbert.com and downloadable from iTunes

     

    The book it is all packaged in is gorgeous, with the original liner notes, as well as additional notes from Kevin. The dude was hilarious; I was almost in tears laughing at the “Artist Info” page on the back.

    Thud (20th Anniversary Deluxe Edition) is available from kevingilbert.com, and the original album is on iTunes, but I strongly advise getting it from his website, as this is one of those remasters that actually makes a notable improvement. It’s an outstanding album, and a reminder of the tragic loss of such a brilliant musician. Highest recommendation.

     

    PHOTO CREDIT: Promotional photos from Kevin Gilbert.com- all rights reserved



  • Kenny Wayne Shepherd Shows He Still Has Got The Best of the Blues Goin’ For Him at the Orleans in Vegas

    Kenny Wayne Shepherd and his Band played  Orleans Arena in  Las Vegas on  08 February 2014
    Kenny Wayne Shepherd and his Band played Orleans Arena in Las Vegas on 8, February, 2014

     

    Kenny Wayne Shepherd first burst onto the national music scene in the mid 1990s with his debut album Ledbetter Heights at the age of 18. The follow-up, Trouble Is…, marked the beginning of a collaboration with vocalist Noah Hunt that has lasted off and on since then; it also yielded KWS’ biggest hit and signature song, “Blue on Black.”

    The Orleans usually caters to older artists, from what I’ve seen on promotional materials. Kenny Wayne Shepherd is about six months younger than me, so I will count him as a younger artist. This is the first concert I’ve attended at the Showroom. It is a fairly intimate room, and there doesn’t seem to be a bad seat in the venue. I was able to sit about ten rows from the stage on the right side, in the “cheap seats,” and had a great view the entire time. I am already planning to see another blues artist there, Robert Cray, at the end of the month.

    Let’s talk about the Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band. KWS himself burning up his multiple Fender Stratocasters throughout the night, and Noah Hunt’s soulful and strong vocals were the focus throughout the show. Shepherd sang on a few songs, including a cover of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “The House Is a Rockin’,” and carried it off fairly well, but Hunt is clearly the stronger singer. Oh yeah, on drums was Chris “Whipper” Layton. Didn’t he play with Stevie Ray Vaughan? Yes, he did; Layton was half of Double Trouble, SRV’s legendary rhythm section, and he showed why he is the go to drummer for modern blues music. He also gives off an exuberantly youthful vibe as he plays, only looking like his 59 years when the show was finished as the band bowed. And on bass was Tony Franklin, known for his work with The Firm (Jimmy Page and Paul Rodgers) and Blue Murder (Carmine Appice and John Sykes), holding down the bottom end with his fretless bass. As a friend remarked, “holy shit, what a band.” Yes indeed.

     

    Kenny Wayne Shepard live is a artist who is not to be missed!
    Kenny Wayne Shepherd live is an artist who is not to be missed!

     

    The band sounded fantastic, and played extremely well together. KWS has ventured from blues to rock and back a few times in his career, and this seems to be a swing back toward the blues, likely owing to the support of his latest album, Goin’ Home, which features songs from many of his heroes. As a result, covers of the aforementioned “The House Is a Rockin’,” a duo of BB King songs from his classic Live at the Regal album, and closing the night with a blazing version of the Jimi Hendrix barnburner “Voodoo Child (Slight Return),” which also might have owed a debt to SRV’s near-definitive rendition, were scattered throughout the set.

    A standout of the night was the song “Heat of the Sun,” from the band’s 2011 album How I Go. More of a rock ballad vibe than most of the evening’s selections, the song’s melody is captivating, and had me running to my iTunes to download it as soon as I was able.

    There wasn’t a lot of jumping around on stage, as I might have been expecting from Franklin’s Blue Murder videos. What there was to be found, however, were some phenomenal musicians in an extremely tight band playing some excellent music.

     

    Kenny Wayne Shepard
    Kenny Wayne Shepherd

     

    Kenny Wayne Shepherd is a fantastic guitarist in complete control of his instrument. Even the time he was playing some wild, blazing passages, he was clearly well within his abilities. I admit, as fan of the “on the edge” school of blues playing, this initially tempered my reaction to the concert, but I can’t argue with the truly enjoyable show I witnessed. Of course, the audience was treated to KWS’ big hit, “Blue on Black,” at the beginning of the three-song encore.

    Recommended

     

    PHOTO CREDITS: Promotional Photos from RoadRunner Records and KennyWayneSheperd.net-  all rights reserved